“Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher…Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for the law: it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy.”
Before Louis Brandeis made his mark as the first Jewish Justice on the United States Supreme Court, where he served for 23 years from 1916 to 1939. Brandeis had an impressive career as an advocate for social justice issues. He was known as the “People’s Attorney” for taking on causes such as workplace conditions, the fairness of banks and insurance companies, government corruption, and the unreasonable restraint of trade. His commitment to using the law to promote social justice was a major reason some members of the Senate opposed his confirmation to the Court.
Once confirmed, Brandeis’s brilliantly crafted opinions (often dissents) provided legal analysis and guidance that continue to be cited by scholars and judges today. His influence on President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies was significant. Justice Brandeis is still known as one of the architects of the right to privacy and one of the most eloquent protectors of the freedom of speech. His commitment to knowing the facts before making decisions is highlighted in this memorable quote: “Knowledge is essential to understanding and understanding should precede judging.” His was vigilant against government encroachment on civil liberties, writing that we should “be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent.”
Justice Brandeis was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and chose the law school at the University of Louisville as his final resting place. In 1997, the law school, founded in 1846, was renamed the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. His personal papers are housed at the law school. These papers have provided source material for a number of biographies have been written about Justice Brandeis, including the comprehensive Louis Brandeis: Justice For the People, by Philippa Strum. Brandeis University, founded in 1948 in Waltham, Massachusetts, was named for Justice Brandeis at its founding.
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